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The Perfect Fourth of July Jazz Record

In 1959, Louis Armstrong paid tribute to his mentor King Oliver—and to freedom

The front cover of Louis Armstrong's Satchmo Plays King Oliver
The front cover of Louis Armstrong’s Satchmo Plays King Oliver

As the Fourth of July comes around each year, I wonder how many people out there in the Republic are upping the quantity of Louis Armstrong material they’re listening to. No, Armstrong himself wasn’t born on the Fourth of July; his birthday was exactly a month later. But it’s easy to conflate dates when we’re talking about jazz’s principal Uncle Sam figure, a sort of father to all of us who have delighted in the medium.

Uncle Sam was a lot of things, but you had the sense that he was an ambassador too, albeit a stern one, pointing his finger in your direction, solemnly intoning that he wanted you. Armstrong did the same with a smile, only on behalf of jazz, as if he were inviting you to join a party that would not only cater to your immediate leisure-time needs but also change how you thought and interacted with the world going forward. I’ve always heard Armstrong’s music as an auditory directional arrow, his trumpet cadenzas being that which made it strobe, his higher-than-ought-to-be-humanly-possible notes that which betokened new suns for our purview. Music as additional light source.

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Colin Fleming

Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature—for a wide range of publications. He also talks regularly on the radio for the likes of NPR and Downtown with Rich Kimball. His most recent book, Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls (Tailwinds), was published in 2019, with an entry in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club to follow in 2020. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com (where you’ll also find his unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.